Lawyers ask Sec Teodoro to uphold rights of persons under military custody

Lawyers have asked Defense Secretary Gilbert C. Teodoro Jr. to uphold the vested human rights of persons under military custody, particularly those in the Southern Tagalog provinces.

“We hope that you will take these calls as a challenge to balance your task of guarding the country against security threats with the imperative of fulfilling the Philippine government’s obligations to respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said in its July 7, 2023 letter to Teodoro.

NUPL said: “In the course of our recent engagement as counsels for activists, rights defenders, and humanitarian workers in Southern Tagalog region (Region IV-A), we have not only observed a disturbing pattern of rights abuses and misuse of the criminal justice system by the military; we, ourselves, have also been subjected to attacks while discharging our duties as lawyers.”

“The Philippine Army based in Southern Tagalog has been criminalizing activities that fall within humanitarian exemptions under Republic Act No. 11479 (the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020), denying persons deprived of liberty of their right to counsel and visits by family, and harassing lawyers who were merely fulfilling their professional duties to such clients,” it said.

“These pernicious practices have led to the growing incidence of torture, cruel and inhumane treatment or punishment, and fake surrenders of civilians as so-called rebel returnees, and have weaponized counter-terrorism laws to stifle civil liberties and constrict civic space,” it added.

“As a fellow lawyer, we urge you to uphold your duties under the UN (United Nations) Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers in the context of protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of our clients and promoting the cause of justice,” it stressed.

It pointed out that “regardless of their beliefs and status as persons under international humanitarian law, our clients are entitled to call upon the assistance of lawyers.”

Thus, it said, “we, as their lawyers, should be allowed at all times to act freely and diligently for the protection of their interests, without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”

In its letter, NUPL also asked Secretary Teodoro to “investigate, for possible administrative liability, the military officers involved in the foregoing incidents, including the commanding officers of the 2nd ID (Infantry Division), 4th IB (Infantry Battalion), and the 59th IB.”

It also asked that the military should “refrain from filing trumped-up cases of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses against persons engaged in humanitarian activities and legitimate exercises of free speech and expression, such as advocacy, protest, and dissent, as well as from deliberately providing incorrect addresses of respondents while instituting complaints before prosecutorial offices.”

At the same time, NUPL said that “lawyers should be allowed to travel and consult with their clients freely and should not suffer, or be threatened with prosecution, administrative or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”